Tag Archives: life after Japan

Post-JET Diaries- Part Seven

February
Jennifer Cerna

“Take a chance, you stupid hoe. 怖がってるんじゃねえ。” –Gwen Stefani

February started off on a positive note. Work was going fine and I no longer felt on the brink of losing anything. I felt extremely busy, and found myself working overtime. One Tuesday, my manager sent me home early for that reason and my week seemed to slow down immediately. I finished my transcription assignments for my other job and got some things done for several police departments.
I had begun to realize that there was a very important difference between feeling isolated and being alone. I enjoyed being alone; it gave me time to recharge and reflect. But I hated feeling isolated. I didn’t know anybody in my area who could relate to my experiences as a JET participant and alumna. I was beginning to make solid friends, finally, but in some ways I still felt adrift. The worst part about being isolated in that way was that I wasn’t alone. Not only was I not getting some needs met, but I was also getting too little space to myself. I will always appreciate that my parents are so gracious about involving me in their lives but it was beginning to really wear on me that I was never actually alone. There was always someone in the house and they might call me at seemingly inopportune moments for something. For this reason among many others, I was looking forward to the time I would be able to spend in Houston for the JETAA reception for returning JETs.
Though I felt incredibly awkward at the JETAA reception and hardly talked to more than a handful of people, it was immensely helpful to hear from and see people who understood what I was going through. The ones who had come back a while ago were happy, upbeat, and still involved in Japanese-American relations. That really struck me because I realized that I had been trying really hard to shut out everything that I could of Japan. I have a lot of things I brought back from Japan, but they are all put away in boxes where I can’t see or think of them. I told one of the JET alumni that I had been trying not to think about my time in Japan and her reaction made me realize that I had been going about a lot of things wrong. Why would I try to shut out four very eventful, fantastic, formative years of my life? It gave me a new perspective on how to approach my relationship with Japan. Maybe it would be possible for me to maintain some sort of relationship with Japan. Maybe pretending that those four years hadn’t happened was not the best way for me to cope with the culture shock and challenges that come with returning to the States. Maybe I could continue to study Japanese, or join my mother in watching NHK (her favorite channel). I really do miss the quick little flicks of my pen whenever I wrote complex kanji.
Later in the month, I hung out with someone whom I realized I had a lot in common with, and we became quick friends. I got a third job and signed up for the CrossFit Open. I had my first interview with a police department. I planned a road trip with a couple other people. I was getting a lot of projects and random things, like my health, taken care of at last and everything seemed to finally be coming together. I worked hard and used every minute as efficiently as I could. I focused.

Towards the end of February, I felt that I was finally getting somewhere. My fear of becoming stagnant in my life was no longer at the forefront of my mind. I felt immensely hopeful that everything was finally falling into place. Most of the tasks that I had laid out at the beginning of the year, with an April 1st deadline, were completed.
On the last day of the month after a long day at work, I came home to find a letter addressed to me from the police department I had interviewed with: I did not meet their qualifications. Until that point, I had rarely felt so abruptly and profoundly disappointed. Policing was the one thing that I truly wanted to do, and neither my first nor second-choice police department worked out. My mind raced, and the thought that I would spend the next six months to a year working at the same two restaurants, constantly working, filled me with panic. What would I do? I could not go on like this, could I? I already felt that I was wearing myself thin. The only reason I was okay with going full throttle like I had been was because it was temporary. I tried to calm myself. While I was crying harder than I had in years, a small voice inside my mind tried to comfort me. It’s okay. It doesn’t have to be like that. There are many other things I can do. I still had two more police tests to take in March, and there are countless departments all over the country. Though I understood the logic, the only word I could describe the way I felt was “crushed.”
The next day, I woke up and tried to feel better. I was beginning to feel more optimistic and seriously considered alternatives to policing, at least for the time being. There were still many things I could do while I waited to be accepted into a police department. I didn’t have to feel stuck at jobs I disliked. The world will always be full of opportunities. That’s how February ended. I felt that I had fallen from a part of a gargantuan mountain that I had been climbing for a long time, to the bottom, but I was beginning to look up and accept that all I could do was continue to move along.

When I decided to write my Post-JET Series, I wanted it to be six months long. I had thought that by the time I got to the six month mark, I would be in police academy and everything would be going smoothly: I would have my own apartment, my finances and administrative tasks I had to deal with would all be taken care of. I would have completed my transition and adjustment to U.S. life and everything would be ideal, and I would be over all of the reverse-culture shock. I would even stop missing and thinking about Japan. Though I was a bit off and see now that I have a long ways to go before I get there (do I even want to get to the point where Japan isn’t a part of me?), I still believe that this is a good place to end the series before writing a follow-up article one year after leaving Japan. For those of you who have re-contracted for another year, remember to savor each moment. Don’t let any moment slip by, taken for granted, because in hindsight, they will all have been unique. For those of you returning to your home countries or moving to a new one, best of luck! Most importantly, in either case, keep your heart and mind open.

Jennifer Cerna

Jennifer is a JET alumna currently living in Texas. She is the published author of novelette My Imagined Pregnancy: A Daydream Gone Wild and several flash fiction and narrative non-fiction pieces. In her free time she enjoys exercise, food, and movies

Post-JET Diaries- Part Six

“That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been.” –Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

Though each day passed in seeming monotony, I can’t say that they hadn’t each injected some influence into my path. One overcast day while riding in the passenger seat in one of my parents’ cars, I suddenly realized that I needed to take responsibility for my life. My life is the way it is because of all of the decisions I have made. Even if I were not the one calling the shots, I was responsible for the ways I reacted to the things that happened. Instead of feeling like a victim of my circumstances, I realized that I needed to take responsibility for those circumstances I found myself in. I resolved to take it upon myself to improve what I could. This changed the way I viewed things and altered the course I was on.

I began to feel much happier, and I started doing things that would improve my life. I felt motivated again, and excited. I decided to really get it together and do the best that I could. I stepped up my policing career game plan. I resolved to eat better and go to the gym more regularly. I met with a financial advisor to help me get my money on a road to growth, not decimation. I decided to avoid any serious dating this year to really work on myself. I dedicated the new year to polishing myself up. This would be the year of me.

I got so excited and motivated, and I did too much. I accepted too many transcription assignments for my other job, I picked up too many shifts at the restaurant and ended up working over time. On top of that, filling out all of the police applications, taking tests, and working out regularly caught up to me quickly. I found myself about to lose it on multiple occasions, though to be honest, I didn’t know what “it” really was. But I also felt my identity beginning to really take root. I am the things that I do. I am who I am because of what I dedicate my time to. I didn’t realize it at the time, but those were the growing pains. I was struggling because I was pushing myself to a new limit.

Relief was a couple of weeks away. I told myself I could get through it because in February, there was a JETAA reception for the Texas/Oklahoma area and I would take a few days to decompress and be alone in my hotel room. To get to that day was my goal. That was it.

Those fleeting moments where I was hit by a strong sense of loss or nostalgia for Japan became less frequent. All of my focus in January was on attaining the life that I pictured for myself and meeting my financial needs.

Jennifer Cerna

Jennifer is a JET alumna currently living in Texas. She is the published author of novelette My Imagined Pregnancy: A Daydream Gone Wild and several flash fiction and narrative non-fiction pieces. In her free time she enjoys exercise, food, and movies

Post-JET Diaries- Part Three

October

“Failing is just as sweet as success. I’ve tried them both and have no preference. So open your eyes and scan the horizon. Pick a direction and don’t stop driving.” -From Autumn to Ashes

I actually do have a preference, and that’s success. But seriously, for much of my life, I have felt almost limitless. I scan the horizon, consider my options, and zoomed in, I can see only a few prospects as someone with a degree in psychology: social work, graduate school, or a monotonous office job that I would probably hate. Zoomed out, I can choose from a variety of jobs, go back to school, and do literally anything I want. It’s never too late. I’m lucky enough to have my groceries, utilities, and rent covered so if I get a job, it would be relatively easy to find a new direction. Zoomed out even more, I could apply to schools and jobs abroad, travel, anything. Whatever I decide to do, though, the most important thing is to pick something and follow through. That’s what I do when I find myself floundering. Just pick something and stick to it.

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Post JET Diaries- Part Two

September

“People tell me slow my roll, I’m screamin’ out ‘Fuck that!’ Imma do just what I want, lookin’ ahead, no turnin’ back.” – Kid Cudi

I guess this period of time straight out of JET–no job, no school–was the first time I’d been truly free as an adult. The only responsibilities I had are the ones I made for myself and chose to recognize. They consisted of my family, my health, educating myself, and eventually getting a job. Other than that, my life felt open, uncomplicated. I felt like a recently emptied house, all the windows wide open. Life passed through me, unhindered.

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